NFL morning after: It’s the Texans and everyone else in the AFC

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Is seven weeks into the season too early to declare home-field advantage wrapped up? Probably. But let’s be real about the state of the AFC right now: It’s the Texans and everyone else.

The Texans are so much better than the rest of the AFC that only a string of major injuries to key players (like Houston had last year) can prevent them from clinching home field for the playoffs, probably with a couple games left in the regular season. The road to the Super Bowl goes through Houston.

Entering Sunday, the Texans and Ravens were tied for the best record in the AFC at 5-1, and their meeting at Reliant Stadium looked like a possible AFC Championship preview. But on Sunday the Texans absolutely humiliated the Ravens, jumping out to a 29-3 halftime lead and coasting through the second half to win 43-13. If the Ravens are the second-best team in the AFC, then I don’t know if there’s ever been a bigger gap between the first and second-best teams in either conference in NFL history.

The Texans are such a complete team. They pass the ball well with Matt Schaub throwing to receivers Andre Johnson and Kevin Walter and tight end Owen Daniels. In Arian Foster they have one of the NFL’s best running backs. Defensive lineman J.J. Watt is my choice for Defensive Player of the Year in the NFL right now. Johnathan Joseph has been slowed by a groin injury this season, but when he’s at full speed he’s among the NFL’s best cornerbacks — and he looked like he’s getting closer to full speed when he picked off Joe Flacco and returned the interception 52 yards for a touchdown on Sunday.

All of that is half of the reason the Texans are so far ahead of the pack in the AFC. The other half is that every other team in the AFC is deeply flawed. Only the Texans, Ravens and Patriots have winning records, and it’s looking like a year when 8-8 may be enough to make the playoffs in the AFC. All those AFC teams hovering around .500 may look to some people like just the kind of parity everyone likes about the NFL, but it looks more like mediocrity to me.

The Texans’ loss to the Packers a week ago is a strong demonstration of how much better the NFC is than the AFC this season: If the Texans were in the other conference, they wouldn’t be the favorites to earn home-field advantage. But as the one and only really good team in a mediocre conference, the Texans have the clearest path to the Super Bowl of any team in the NFL.

Here are my other observations from the seventh Sunday of this NFL season:

Chris Johnson may be the most inconsistent player in NFL history. Johnson was absolutely sensational for the Titans in Sunday’s win over the Bills, carrying 18 times for 195 yards and two touchdowns, including one 83-yard run on which he looked like he could give Usain Bolt a competitive race. Johnson’s game-breaking ability is unmatched; previously in his NFL career Johnson has had touchdown runs of 91, 89 and 85 yards, and he’s the only player in NFL history with four career touchdown runs of 80 yards or longer. But for the Titans, it’s maddening that a player with the talent to run like that has so many absolutely terrible games. In the first six weeks of this season, Johnson had four different games in which he failed to gain even 25 yards. In those four games, Johnson’s total stat line is 48 carries for 69 yards and zero touchdowns. How can a player who’s good enough to gain 195 yards on 18 carries in one game be bad enough to total just 69 yards on 48 carries in four other games? It’s inexplicable.

Browns rookie defensive lineman Billy Wynn committed one of the dumbest penalties of the year. On a fourth down from the Colts’ own 22-yard line in the second quarter, the Indianapolis offense stayed on the field. Obviously, all they were going to do is try to draw the Browns’ defense offside: No NFL team ever goes for it on fourth down in that situation. Which obviously means that all the Browns had to do was not jump offside. And yet Wynn jumped offside, giving the Colts a free first down. Penalties don’t get much dumber than that.

Wynn’s penalty wasn’t even the Browns’ dumbest fourth-down decision. Browns coach Pat Shurmur made one of the bonehead calls of the year when he sent out his punter on fourth-and-1 from the Colts’ 41-yard line while trailing 17-13 with 6:38 left in the fourth quarter. That’s a situation where you have to go for it. You simply cannot give the ball away because you don’t trust your offense to gain one yard with the game on the line. The Browns, of course, ended up losing by that same 17-13 score. Shurmur is coaching for his job right now, and these are the decisions that get coaches fired.

We’re running out of superlatives for Robert Griffin III. Even in defeat, Griffin is doing amazing things as the Redskins’ quarterback. After Griffin completed 20 of 28 passes for 258 yards and two touchdowns, plus 89 yards rushing, players on the Giants’ defense declared Griffin the best quarterback they’ve faced this season. Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora described Griffin as “flat-out unbelievable.” It’s amazing how good this guy is, at just 22 years old.

Last year we were running out of superlatives for Cam Newton. If you want to make the case that no one should get too excited about Griffin, all you have to do is point to Newton. Last year Newton was doing many of the same things Griffin was doing, making plays with his arm and his feet in an unbelievable rookie season for the Panthers. But this year Newton just doesn’t appear to be the same player. It’s not that Newton has been terrible, but in games like Sunday’s loss to the Cowboys, he just hasn’t been able to make plays when the Panthers need him. Becoming a great pro quarterback is a lot of work, and while Newton may achieve greatness eventually, he’s not there yet. Maybe a full year of film on Newton has better prepared NFL defenses to stop him, or maybe Newton let all the fame get to his head last year. But he’s not playing as well as he did in 2011.

The Jets aren’t going down without a fight. After they lost their best player, Darrelle Revis, to a season-ending knee injury and then lost their next game 34-0 to the 49ers, I thought the Jets would be one of the worst teams in the league the rest of the season. But I was wrong. The Jets are playing tough, competitive football. On Sunday in New England the Jets were (at least according to the Vegas lines) the biggest underdogs in the NFL. And yet they took the Patriots to overtime. Rex Ryan turns a lot of people off with all his bluster, but the guy is a damn good coach.

Colts coach Chuck Pagano had the biggest win of the day. Not because his team beat the Browns to improve to 3-3 and surpass last year’s win total, but because he was sent home after four weeks in the hospital while undergoing treatment for leukemia. For Pagano, that’s an important step to getting where he wants to be: Back to coaching his team.

56 responses to “NFL morning after: It’s the Texans and everyone else in the AFC

  1. So they won’t miss Ray Lewis huh! That man means more to that Defense than we can imagine, Texan’s delivered a beat down.

  2. Off the subject, but I was wondering how many other fans are sick of all the in play celebrations (ala Roy Williams first down move), and the constant crying for a pass interference penalty.

    A touchdown is worthy of a celebration

    A first down is not, in most instances.

  3. This just in – NFL morning after

    Michael David Smith posts the worst comment in an article this year.

    To say that Rex Ryan is a damn good coach is like saying Ryan Leaf is a damn good NFL quarterback.

    We all know the Patriots have problems closing out games for the last 5 years and its more of an issue this year than any. That does not make Rex Ryan a good coach. Also Rex Ryan did not stop Brady and Co. on 3rd down to get the ball with 4 minutes left and Rex Ryan did not force McCourty’s fumble after the JETS FAILED TO SCORE A TD to put the game away.

    Rex Ryan is a joke and so are the comments in this article.

    Should of stuck with just commenting on the Houston Texans.

  4. He road to the super bowl may go through houston, but in the end it will be the steelers paving it. As we get healthy we will get better. We will sweep the afcn. And finish at 10-6 which shall win the division!!! Deal with it haters!!!

  5. Cam wasn’t great yesterday but he was a lot better than he has been. The no call of pass interference and the stupid horse collar call is the reason why we are talking about how bad he’s doing. I’m calling it now RG3 will go to a similar year that Newton is having next year. The worest enemy in the NFL is game tape. QBs that are like Newton and RG3 are guys who needs at least 3 to 4 years before they start doing or making those right decisions. As a fan I won’t pull the plug on him yet bc we in Carolina Panther world are very and I mean very unpatient.

  6. Ahhhhh, my Brownies….I just sat there and shook my head watching the bone head penalties, the dumb-ass play calling, the dropped game winning passes… just when you think it can’t get any worse. And sorry, but I have no where else to go, ya’ll know how it is when you grow up with a team. In the Browns case, it’s like having a butt-ugly dog that you love to pieces, but damn, is that an ugly dog!

  7. I know the oft repeated adage “you are what your record states you are” but there are 11 more weeks left in the season.

    Even in 2007 it was only after the superbowl 41 & half between Colts & Pats did we know who really owned AFC that year. And owning AFC counts for nothing… no need to elaborate on that.

    Pats might not get the home advantage this year and right now don’t look like being capable of stopping snails from the endzone, but…

    Playoffs will be a different picture this year, just watch.

  8. And we all know the best team in the conference after week 7 will be the top team in the conference after the conference championship game in January….

  9. Joetoronto:

    His overall record as a coach is 35-25. 31-23 in regular season games. By the end of the season he will be barely above .500 if he is lucky. Not to mention he will get canned this year and no one is going to hire him as a headcoach again.

    Even has d coach and assistance coach he has a under .500 record except for 2000 ravens superbowl team.

    In conclusion 2007 – many of Ravens great D became old and the team fell to 5-11. He had headcoach interviews for the Falcons, Ravens, and Miami. Everyone else got the job including Tony Sparano over Rex Ryan. And since then he has been witht he Jets.

    So where did rex ryan become a good coach?

  10. I hate to downplay Chris Johnson’s huge day yesterday, but it did come against one of the worst defenses in the league.

    Yes, he took advantage of it, and should be given credit for doing what he’s supposed to do, but the only reason the Titans and Bills combined for 69 points was because BOTH defenses are horri-bad.

  11. joetoronto

    Go find some Prozac buddy, all you do is complain and naysay. Find something that makes you happy, that poo poo attitude of yours is unhealthy.

  12. At this point saying a team is the best in the AFC is comparable to saying such-and-such student is the smartest in a special education class.

    The Texans did not beat up on a Ravens team that are the Ravens of old. This is a team that has been gutted by injuries and is nothing but a shadow of what it used to be. The Texans are definitely good……..for the AFC.

  13. Steelers vs Giants in super bowl.. Get your tickets now. That game is going to be sensational!!!

  14. Over-react much? The Texans were damn good yesterday, but let’s tap the breaks just a bit before we go crowning them runaway AFC champions with 11 weeks left. They beat down a completely inept Ravens team yesterday.

    Keep in mind, this is the same Texan team that squeaked by the Jets by 6 points.

  15. daaabears says:
    Oct 22, 2012 7:20 AM
    Off the subject, but I was wondering how many other fans are sick of all the in play celebrations (ala Roy Williams first down move), and the constant crying for a pass interference penalty.

    I agree! Celebrating for catching a ball that was thrown to you EVERYTIME you reach a first down is stupid. But even more so is the pass interference plea when the wideout doesn’t catch the ball. Always looking for someone to blame. ALA Dez Bryant at the end of the Raven’s game.

  16. I second the Ryan is a good coach sentiments. Anyone that can take a team quarterbacked by Mark Sanchez to a conference championship game is pretty good coach. To make an anology of Ryan’s coaching career to Leaf’s NFL career is just plain silly.

  17. Steelers fans are ridiculous. Yesterday they were hoping for a Suggs season ending injury, and its pretty clear why. The Steelers aren’t good. The only thing worse than the two teams playing last night was the black and white brad Pitt women’s perfume commercial, and that’s not saying much.

    The steelers won’t make the playoffs. If everyone on the ravens dies, and the steelers manage to squeak in, they’ll get lambasted by the broncos, texans, or patriots.

    It’s not like it really matters anyway, because whoever the afc serves up for the Super Bowl will get flat out destroyed by the NFC rep. The true Super Bowl is going to be the NFC championship… As is the custom in the last few years.

  18. How can a player who’s good enough to gain 195 yards on 18 carries in one game be bad enough to total just 69 yards on 48 carries in four other games? It’s inexplicable.

    Here we go with the Chris Johnson over analysis again. It’s really not that tough to explain if you’ve seen some of the horrible blocking and plays where it looked like the defense stole the playbook and had guys in the backfield milliseconds after the snap. Big tackles for loss on several runs + an OC who doesn’t call a lot of rushing plays anyway = really ugly rushing stat lines in some games.

    It’s possible Hasselbeck does a better job of changing plays at the line to get them out of doomed calls, since except for Minnesota, they’ve had a more consistently effective run game with the veteran QB under center (including @ Houston). Hopefully, it has more to do with the OL (reconfigured inside with a new center making the calls) finally jelling and also the FB/TEs/WRs doing a much better job sealing off blocks of late. But there’s not nearly as many defensive jailbreaks/TFLs, and it also seems like there are a lot fewer offensive holding penalties lately.

    Trustworthy blocking means a more decisive RB, too.

  19. I think most Texans fans (me included) realize the NFC is the Vegas favorite for the Super Bowl, and probably by a touchdown or more. The Texans are awesome, but they’ll have to show they can compete with the NFC by handling business against the Lions, Bears, and Vikings. That is not an easy out-of-conference schedule at all.

  20. I just don’t see the Steelers making it to the super bowl. Not being a hater, but really, they are good but not great, and they have too many people hurt.

  21. Everyone knows Flacco is bad on the road. Playing against a solid defense just emphasizes that point: Joe Flacco’s Total QBR, a metric that accounts for everything a QB does, was 0.3 on the 0-100 scale, the lowest rating for any QB since 2008

  22. And I will go to my grave believing Sanchez is over-rated. All the other team has to do is rattle him some, then sit back and wait. He’ll screw up.

  23. Tell me how the packers did after having home field advantage. Thats what i thought.

  24. Unlike baseball where we get a series to tell who the better teams are, in football we only get a single game to tell. What this article assumes is that if the houston-baltimore game were to be played out as a series it would end this way each time, which is not likely. It just shows that Baltimore is a much different team with the lead than playing from behind.

  25. Patriots, Steelers, Broncos will have a say by the end of the year. Each have QBs that can beat you and Baltimore does not.

  26. Is seven weeks into the season too early to declare home-field advantage wrapped up? Probably. But let’s be real about the state of the NFC right now: It’s the Falcons and everyone else.

  27. The Steelers figured in out and its not going to be pretty for their competition the rest of the way. They have a freight train running back and and O line that can kick ass and they are going to use it the rest of the way with some passing thrown in.
    They literally kicked Cincy’s ass last night from a physical standpoint. This team is going to be right in the thick of the playoffs this year.

  28. The jets taught us Pats fan two years ago never crown a team champs during the regular season. We throttled them 45 to 3 during the regular season, but gave my Pats a beating in the playoffs. Thereby, irrespective of how good they may presently look, it’s absurd to say they will present the afc in the SB. One thing you people should not forget is that my Pats, Ravens, Steelers, and even the Broncos now with P. Manning know what it takes to win in the playoffs and are much more experienced than the texans. I would bet my money on any of the aforementioned teams before I would on the texans come the playoffs.

  29. Oh, great, it’s the yearly Week 7 champions. Nobody knows where the Super Bowl will be going through except for where it will be played right now. Just because a team has a great regular season record and looks good now does NOT mean they will even make it through the playoffs to the Super Bowl. Or even win it. I’ve learn to accept this as a Patriots fan. Why do people do this year in and year out with examples in the recent past that say otherwise? The Giants (twice) and the Packers come to mind immediately. Just get into the playoffs and another mentality takes over. Anyone can win.

  30. lol the Texans…

    So when the Pats beat them later on this season, will they still be the best AFC team?? I’ve said it for years now and its always been true. As long as Schaub is their QB, they will not make it to the Superbowl.

  31. Texans Defense DOMINATED the Ravens Offense. PERIOD!

    Texans control their own destiny for #1 seed.

    Ready to welcome the Bills to Reliant in 2 weeks. or “Judgement Day” as Mario Williams calls it.

  32. The difference between RGIII and Cam Newton is that RGIII takes care of the football. RGIII is a good QB who just so happens to be a world class sprinter. Cam is an incredible football talent who still needs to learn how to be a QB.

  33. The Texans Rock!!! If Staub and Foster stays healthy, Houston will have it’s first NFL Championship!! Go Texans!!!

  34. “It’s the Texans and everyone else in the AFC”
    It is the Texans, but it is not EVERYONE else in the AFC.
    The Raiders, Browns, Jags, & Chiefs have no shot.

    The Texans did not beat the Ravens OF old this week they beat the Ravens that ARE old.

  35. To all the Texans fans, I originally from New Orleans so I know the places you should go and shouldn’t. Being a life long Saints fan there’s only one other thing I can tell you. Enjoy the ride. It’s going to be great!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  36. To all those saying the Texans are paper champions….

    Who else this year has beaten a 5-1 team by 30pts?

    Texans haven’t won anything yet, but to say this isn’t a really good/great team is just dumb. And to be honest, with the AFC definitely lagging the NFC so much this year, the Texans will have a much easier road to the Big Easy than anyone in the NFC.

  37. mavajo says: Oct 22, 2012 10:25 AM
    It’s the NFC, and then everyone else in the NFL.


    Mavajo, did you watch the 07 season? The best teams don’t usually win. That’s why we say “Any Given Sunday” in the NFL. This is not college.

  38. The Texans aren’t going to win anything. They’ll lose their first playoff game. There’s just always been something missing from that team, and until yesterday, they had been playing down to their competition if anything.

  39. Texans will get better as the year goes on because they have two new starters on the offensive line. Will run the ball better by the time the playoffs start.

  40. Nobody in the NFC can play defense…look at the Giants getting scored on left and right…the Pack? all offense. Niners have the defense, but Alex Smith at QB? Get real. Falcons? Let me know when they win a playoff game… at home, or otherwise.
    Texans are the most balanced team in the NFL. period. They can beat you with the run, pass and defense.

  41. This line says it all about Shurmur: “Shurmur is coaching for his job right now, and these are the decisions that get coaches fired.”

    He is in over his head. I thought the same thing with that 4th and 1 play. You are on the right side of the field, you need to go for it or heck, kick a field goal, but don’t just give up! I was ready to turn the TV off at that point!

  42. I’m a Raven fan and if I were the Texans I wouldn’t get to high. The Ravens stink with a Capitol “S”.

    I love my Ravens but; it is what it is. They are awful, I was ashamed yesterday watching that spanking. The Texans are good SB ah not so much.

  43. I love it. Just keep it up TexAnnes. Then the massive collapse will be that much more noticeable. A Kubiak team has Zero chance of going anywhere in the playoffs. New England is licking their chops. HaHa.

  44. Week 3 rematch. Broncos-Texans in AFC Championship game. Prob same result. But I hope not !!!

  45. It’s funny but I remember hearing and reading the same stuff about the Saints the year we won the super bowl. Frist it was the fact that we weren’t playing anyone. And, once we got into the playoffs it was we would be one and done. And, then it was the vikings were going to kill us. And, finally in the Super Bowl Payton and the Colts were suppose to kill us.

    Of course Texans fans once you win the Super Bowl you’ll still have to defend yoursleves * But, trust me those of you who think you know about football. This is probably the best football team I’ve seen in the past ten years. And, what makes them dangerous is thier run game. If you can run the ball the way they can you have the ability to control the flow of the game. That means that they don’t need the QB to carry the team. But, with AJ they have the ability to get explosive plays. This team is old school good

  46. to the people saying rg3 doesnt throw as many picks as newton did his first year. it’s because rg3 only throws bubble screens and slant throws 5 yards in front of him which turn into large YAC which inflate his overrated stats.

  47. Can’t wait until the Texans get gronked by The Brady bunch in Foxboro, then again in the AFC Championship where?,,,,,,in Foxboro!

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